Food can produce substantial revenue and profits for a location-based leisure facility (LBL). Yet too often, it is relegated to a stepchild status with a snack bar, and usually one that is poorly done at that. In LBLs, quality food service can generate 25% or more of total revenues. Even more important, it is a critical success factor for creating a project that results in loyal, repeat guests. The most successful and oldest operating LBLs have built their reputation and following around food as much as the entertainment components.
Socialization is a key reason people visit a leisure project. It is a chance for a family or group to go out and have some fun together. Culturally, socialization tends to revolve around food and beverage, especially for adults. This is even more significant in parts of Latin America and Europe than in the US. Without a quality food service operation and pleasant seating area, this socialization component will be missing and the facility will not be as attractive of a destination.
In the projects White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group produces for our clients, we take food and beverage seriously. It is treated as one of the most important components of a facility-not only the selection and quality of food, but also the food service seating areas. It is so important, that the food service is given a unique, distinctive name in each facility. Food service facilities in projects we have produced include:
In family oriented facilities, where parents accompany children, the food and beverage selection and the atmosphere and ambience of the seating areas are a very important consideration in parents' attendance decisions. Studies have found that up to 70% of the decisions to attend are made by mothers, not children.
Although many parents will play with their children, most prefer to sit, relax and enjoy coffee, other beverages and food while they socialize and/or monitor their children. The placement of seating areas needs to consider this monitoring need. If the seating areas have good visibility of children's play areas, then the children will receive more supervision from parents and the facility will have less behavior problems. Likewise, it is very important to the comfort of young children to be able to see their parents while they play, so parent seating needs to be located especially close to areas where the youngest children are playing.
Acoustics is also an important consideration. If the seating areas are noisy, and conversation is so difficult that you have to raise your voice, the experience can actually be unpleasant and stressful to parents. Loud environments induce physiological stress in not only adults, but also in children.
The once standard fare of pre-frozen hamburgers, pre-frozen shell pizza and soft drinks will no longer 'cut the mustard' in today's sophisticated restaurant environment. Just look at the menu selections of many casual cuisine, chain restaurants such as Chili's or Applebee's. Consumers are becoming more and more sophisticated in their food choices, and expect the same quality and variety in LBLs.
Our research with families has shown that there is an interest in healthy and high quality food. LBL food service facilities we have produced have included ethic wraps, branded gourmet coffee bars, thin crust gourmet pizzas (for adults, children still like the classic style), fresh salads, grills, fresh fruit moothies and specialty menus for children.
When it come to families, we make sure the café areas are both parent and child friendly, paying special attention to the needs of parents with infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers. Picture menus are developed for young children who don't yet read. Child-size silverware is offered as well as spill-proof cups. We give staff special customer service training for working with parents and children.
When providing food service in a variety of cultures and settings, special religious and local practices have to be taken into consideration in the design of the seating areas and the kitchen, sanitation practices, food selection and food preparation.
Sometimes meeting parents' needs means stepping outside societal paradigms. To address parents' concerns about the unhealthy effect of cola and soda drinks on their children, LouLou Al Dugong's in Dubai offers no soda drinks, only fruit juices, included fresh squeezed ones. This operating decision supported parents in not having to say "no" to their children's choices when they visited the café The value of children's nutrition and health came first in this facility.
Children have always been fascinated by food preparation. That is why in 1997 we introduced the industry's first do-it-yourself cooking for children as young as 3 years old and now, in 2001, will be introducing the industry's first do-it-yourself campfire cooking for children.
Quality food service is an essential component of any LBL. It requires research, attention to detail and understanding the needs of both parents and children's. Treat it like a necessary evil, and success will be elusive. Get it right and your business will prosper.